The laid-back atmosphere of Chengdu is a complete contrast to the bustling city life of Shanghai or Beijing. With so many things to do in Chengdu, it’s a shame that the city doesn’t get more tourists. Of course, this also means that you’ll deal with smaller crowds as you visit the sites.
Known for its spicy hot pot dishes and Sichuan peppercorn, Chengdu is one of the best places to visit in China for foodies. It’s also UNESCO’s first-ever City of Gastronomy.
The city is best known as the home to a giant panda breeding centre and a wide range of historical attractions. But it also has a diverse cultural scene, fueled by the youthful students and burgeoning expat community. Within the city of Chengdu, the old and the new merge together seamlessly.
Don’t know where to begin? Start plotting your course with this guide to the best Chengdu attractions…
What to do in Chengdu
Watch pandas play at the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding
Start your Chengdu sightseeing tour with a trip to the panda facility. The Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding started with just six giant pandas and now has over 80.
The research base focuses on panda conservation efforts, helping to educate the public about this famous Sichuan native. It’s the highlight of any trip to the city and a must-see for any extended China travel plan. Watch baby pandas rolling around and playing in their natural habitats.
Just make sure that you come early. Of all the top tourist attractions in Chengdu, the giant panda conservation facility remains the most visited. By midday, the area becomes packed with visitors.
Spend an evening shopping along Jinli Pedestrian Street
Jinli Street is the go-to destination when you don’t know what to do in Chengdu as it offers a little bit of everything. Try the spicy local cuisine, buy souvenirs from gift vendors, and walk past historic sites as you explore this lively pedestrian street.
It’s lined with small stalls and gift shops and opens to numerous side streets and alleyways with even more shops and markets. You can find a wide variety of items from trinkets to street food.
If possible, try to go in the evening. Chinese lanterns light up the street, highlighting the unique character of the old buildings and markets.
Shop for fashion and snacks with a trip down Chunxi Road
If you want to know where to go in Chengdu for modern shopping, travel down Chunxi Road. This major pedestrian street is full of bright lights, shops, and several malls.
You’ll find over 700 shops in the area, making it impossible to explore it all. It’s wider compared to Jinli Street and tends to feature modern goods instead of an assortment of knickknacks.
It’s incredibly crowded during the day but still worth the trip. Take your picture with the group of bronze statues at the north end of the road before working your way along the 1.1-kilometer stretch of shops and malls.
Marvel at the scale of the Leshan Giant Buddha
Located in the Mount Emei Scenic Area, the 71-meter stone statue of Buddha stares out over the Min River and Dadu River. Carved out of a cliff face between 713 and 803, the Leshan Giant Buddha is the tallest statue of pre-modern history.
The enormous Buddha is one of the more impressive things to see in Chengdu. To reach it, you’ll walk a long series of stairs that take you to a platform in front of the statue.
Surprisingly, the monks that constructed the statue had the foresight to carve massive drainage pipes. The drainage keeps rainwater from weathering the features, allowing the statue to remain in top shape over 1200 years later.
Relax with a traditional tea ceremony at Wenshu Yuan Monastery
Wenshu Yuan Monastery is easy to overlook due to the variety of Chengdu points of interest. It’s one of the older temples in the region and features traditional Chinese architecture of the era.
It’s a multi-storied building with several large halls. Of course, as you walk the grounds and halls, you’ll see a variety of Buddhist statues.
Entry to the temple is free and the café offers a traditional tea ceremony. Sit on bamboo chairs and take in the tranquil setting as you sip tea or eat a light meal. It’s peaceful, quiet, and one of the more beautiful spots in the region.
Enjoy the fresh air and scenic views from Mount Qingcheng
When searching for the top points of interest in Chengdu, you’ll need to spend time away from the city centre. Mount Qingcheng sits southwest of the city and includes 36 different peaks.
If you don’t want to walk, give your legs a rest with a trip on the cable car. It takes you up the mountain, providing a view of the surrounding area and the city below. You can then work your way back down the mountain, stopping to explore a few of the temples on the way.
Get your culture fix with a trip to Wuhou Memorial Temple
Even if you’re crunched for time while visiting Chengdu, the Wuhou Memorial Temple deserves a spot in your itinerary. It’s near the Tibetan Quarter and Jinli Street close to the centre of the city.
It’s a huge complex with a variety of smaller temples and a sprawling park. Walk around and appreciate the architecture before stepping inside some of the temples. You can view a variety of ancient relics and even join a tour for more information about the history of the area.
When you’re done checking out the temples, the complex exits out to Jinli Street, placing you at one end of the popular pedestrian shopping street.
Walk the streets of the preserved Huang Long Xi Ancient Town
Some of the best places to visit in Chengdu include the various ancient towns. Dating back to 400 BCE, the region has lots of old towns and villages to explore, including Huang Long Xi Ancient Town.
If you only have 24 hours in Chengdu, visiting this ancient town may be hard. It’s about 50 kilometres from the city centre and named after the river that flows through it.
Over 1700 years old, it’s one of the oldest restored towns in the Sichuan Province. Walk ancient cobbled streets and wood wharves before exploring the curving alleys that wind through the town. It’s got a series of shops, mostly selling souvenirs and knickknacks.
Where to stay in Chengdu for sightseeing
When planning out your sightseeing experience, one of the biggest challenges is choosing where to stay in Chengdu. Like many Chinese cities, Chengdu sprawls over an absolutely massive area. For most travellers, the city centre, especially the areas of Qingyang and Jinjiang, is the best place to start your accommodations search. Here are a few of the best hotels in Chengdu…
- Buddha Zen Hotel: A budget-friendly and atmospheric hotel built in the style of an ancient Chinese courtyard that’ll set you among a cool traditional neighbourhood with plenty of wow-factor and access to some of the top points of interest in Chengdu.
- Fraser Suites Chengdu: If you’re looking for a more home-like atmosphere out of your Chengdu accommodations experience, this spectacular aparthotel offers stylish self-catering suites far better than its price point would suggest. There’s even an on-site health club with a luxurious indoor pool!
- Grand Hyatt Chengdu: One of the top luxury picks in Chengdu, this 5-star hotel charms guests with ultra-stylish rooms and incredible amenities including a 1000-square-metre French garden and indoor pool. There’s also a handful of on-site restaurant including Chinese Restaurant #8 serving up Sichuan’s famous hot pot meals.
- The Ritz-Carlton Chengdu: Looking for world-class luxury at mid-range prices? Thanks to Chengdu’s affordable accommodations market, this Ritz-Carlton defies the chain’s usual sky-high price reputation, giving travellers the full luxury experience for half their usual price. Whether it’s swooning over incredible city views through floor-to-ceiling windows in your room or relaxing in the hot tub or indoor pool, staying here will be unforgettable.